• InduQin

How Did Indian History Become Myth?

Like all good Anglophiles, I went to one of India’s best schools in Bombay. Among the many things they taught me was that the epics—the Ramayana and the Mahabharata—were mythologies. And I believed this till, one day, I decided to read Valmiki’s Ramayana in Sanskrit. And there I read that, as the trio are about to enter Dandakaranya, Sage Bharadwaja warned them to beware of lions and tigers. Lions and tigers don’t share forest space had also been taught to us; so that was yet another myth in the epic. Till I went to Bhimbetka and saw a 10,000-year-old painting of a lion and tiger sitting together. If one fact was so wrongly presented by my good teachers, could the others be equally wrong?

What is a myth? The online dictionary has two meanings: a) a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events; and b) a widely held but false belief or idea. Thus, the Ramayana was damned for all time as a myth.

The epics are known to us as itihasa—thus it happened. And to Hindus, there is no doubt that the events of the epic did happen.

The actual story of the Ramayana is very simple. It starts with Valmiki, the ascetic, asking Narada, the chief of hermits (and a generic name), as to who was the greatest man who ever lived. Narada narrates the story of Rama, King of Ayodhya, a man of virtue, knowledge, prowess, righteousness, truthful, resolute, of right conduct, friendly to all, powerful, handsome, who subdued his self, conquered anger, and many more virtues—but all human. Valmiki was a contemporary of Rama, as confirmed by Narada himself.

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